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The Essential Guide to Visual Content Marketing

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These days, you can do some pretty impressive things with content. However, you’re not the only one using content to win the attention and mindshare of consumers. Thanks to the success that content marketing has seen over the years, there’s a lot (and we mean a lot) of competition out there.

To break through the noise, you need to add some horsepower to your content marketing efforts by incorporating visual content. But, to do this effectively, you need to understand what visual content marketing is and how to create a winning strategy. 

What is visual content marketing?

Visual content marketing is a strategic marketing approach that uses visual assets in an engaging way to inform or influence a specific action or reaction from a particular audience. Visual content marketing goes beyond the mere presence of a photo or design element. It’s more intentional than that. It uses sight, or even motion, in a way that supercharges a marketing message with more meaning and impact.

What are some examples of visual assets?

Throughout the marketing lifecycle — from first your first line of contact to lead nurturing, converting, and retaining customers — visual content plays an increasingly important role. Depending on what you’re trying to achieve, it takes many forms. Photos and images are reliable standbys, but there’s a world of other visual assets like: 

  • Videos
  • Memes
  • Diagrams
  • Animated GIFs
  • Annotated screenshots
  • And many more!

The six components of a visual content marketing strategy

To get the most out of your visual content marketing, you need a strategy to guide your efforts and ensure that you and your team are working toward a shared goal. As you put together your visual content marketing strategy, it’s important to factor these six stages in your process:

1. Planning

In the planning phase, it’s critical to identify your content niche, or the area of the market that you can own. This will help you to stand out from the competition and establish a strong brand voice as a thought leader and industry expert. The key is to find the problem that hasn’t been solved and then own the solution. Just make sure that the area you decide to focus on ties back to your overall company goals and supports your unique product-market fit. 

Finding your niche “sweet spot” won’t happen in one fell swoop. As you move through your planning process, and into the strategy phase, continue to look for opportunities to question and adjust your approach. Remember, your plans are fluid — adapt and adjust to get the most out of your efforts.

Also, think about the people (both internal and external), processes, and technologies that will help you reach your goals at each stage of your strategy. Ask yourself who you need to involve, where and how you’ll house and share your visual content assets, and how you can improve and build efficient workflows.

It’s essential to be thorough, yet not overthink the process or spend too much time analyzing specific steps. The focus should be on improving your process, creating a more collaborative environment, and getting the most out of current and future content creation efforts. Don’t worry about precisely documenting all current processes, but rather, focus your energy on developing a people, process, and technology game plan that makes sense. Lastly, before making any big decisions or investments in technology, get a handle on the people and process piece of the planning puzzle. This will help you prioritize your technologies and ensure they work together to create efficiencies.

2. Strategizing

Next, it’s time to develop and document your visual content marketing strategy. This is your chance to set your brand apart. In this stage, you’ll develop your brand’s personality and reputation using content themes built with an appropriate voice and tone. You’ll also determine how to compliment your content with on-brand visual assets like images, graphics, and videos.

This phase will also entail developing and documenting the "what" and "who" of your visual content marketing strategy. This is the most critical step, as it sets your execution efforts in the right direction.

To uncover the “what,” conduct a content audit. This will help you discover what visual assets you have, what is missing, and what’s working or not working. By taking an inventory of your current visual content haves and have-nots, you can determine where to focus your energy and better inform your strategy by identifying your visual content SWOTs — the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

To get a better feel for the “who” of your visual content marketing strategy, you need to understand the customer journey and buying process. What does a typical customer experience look like from initial contact through purchase and long-term engagement? What sales objections, motivations, and barriers come up at each phase? And, how can your visual content help (or hurt) this process? If you have developed personas, choose the top three most profitable and make them your first priority. You’ll want to systematically approach your strategy and make sure you’re addressing the right people, at the right time, with the right content.

Lastly, your strategy document should cascade from your overall business goals and work hand-in-hand with your branding guidelines. Here are some elements to include in your visual content marketing strategy document:

  • Business goals
  • Visual content marketing strategy goals and success metrics
  • Content tilt (areas of expertise and market ownership)
  • Direction on tone and voice
  • Visual branding recommendations (i.e., rules for visual content asset use)
  • Thought leadership and industry positioning goals
  • Content audit summary and metrics
  • Content calendar (note, you’ll likely compile this during step three below)

3. Executing

In phase three, it’s time to define the “how,” “when,” and “where” of your strategy. This is where you put your plan into action! How will content get produced (what is the process), and when (what dates and frequency)? Where will you publish and distribute your content to reach your target audience? 

Execution is the most important stage, and often where companies risk falling flat. Take a crawl-walk-run approach to your visual content marketing strategy. Show progress at regular milestones before you sign yourself or your team up for additional content commitments. Focus on consistency, and use the power of technologies, such as digital asset management (DAM) software and marketing automation tools, to help you along. Just remember, you don’t want a bunch of disjointed processes and tools. Make sure your people and your technologies work together, so you’re not duplicating efforts or creating inefficiencies.

Lastly, building a content calendar is a critical step in execution. Your content calendar will help keep your efforts on track and hold people accountable. Here are a few practical tips to consider:

  • Develop overall content guidelines with anchor dates, key milestones, and industry themes.
  • Create an inventory of who is creating what types of content for which channels.
  • Have a documented, living-breathing content calendar with editorial assignments and due dates. Be thorough, but remember that it’s not set in stone.
  • Determine and prioritize content topics, taking into account learnings from your content audit.

4. Evaluating

While the execution stage is incredibly important, it’s wasted if you don’t regularly take a step back to evaluate how your efforts are measuring up against your goals. Look back at the success metrics you established during the strategizing phase and measure your efforts against them. Here are a few common success metrics: 

  • Monthly unique visitors
  • Click-thrus
  • Social shares and followers
  • Engagement
  • Content views
  • Name acquisition
  • Conversion rates (marketing and sales)
  • Days to close
  • Annual contract size (ACV)
  • Customer lifetime value

Creating a metrics dashboard can help. Err on the side of simplicity and brevity, especially when you’re first getting going. Start simple with a shared spreadsheet and expand from there, making sure to incorporate data from your various tools, technologies, and platforms. As your content footprint and efforts grow, analytics can quickly become more complicated and dispersed. A central content repository that serves as a single source of truth can be incredibly helpful in measuring your content marketing efforts. This will give you confidence in your data and save you time in the long run.

5. Optimizing

As you learn more through the execution and evaluation of metrics, it’s time to optimize your content marketing strategy. In other words, it’s time to use the knowledge you’ve gained to find a faster path to success, and maximize your best-performing content.

When you began dabbling with content marketing, it may have been an ad hoc approach until your team developed the muscle memory and discipline to produce content on a regular and predictable basis. Now it’s time to move on to a more engine-like approach. This doesn’t mean you become dry and rote in your content marketing efforts. It simply means you begin to scale and repeat what is working well. 

If you started with a crawl-walk-run approach, now that you’ve been crawling, maybe even walking for a while, it’s time to stretch your running legs. Can you begin to increase the volume or frequency of your team’s content commitments? As you get better at upcycling current content, choosing the best-performing content, and working it through omnichannel exposure, you’ll be able to create more efficiently without having to start from scratch. Once you’ve proven your team can execute a sustainable and consistent content marketing strategy, experiment with more proactive persona-based content. Create an A/B testing schedule to determine how effective persona targeting can help improve efficacy. If it tests well, do more. 

This is also an excellent time to do some content cleaning. Every six months, it’s good to do a mini content audit, refresh any stale content, retire any out of date content, assess recurring content gaps, and abandon any underperforming topics or tactics. You got this!

6. Organizing

As you produce more and more visual content, it’s important to stay organized. Therefore, your visual content marketing strategy should include a plan for how you will store, organize, and manage your digital assets. 

For many organizations that are just getting started, a simple file-sharing tool like Dropbox or Google Drive will do the trick. If you’re going this route, make sure to set a few ground rules out of the gate in order to set your team up for success down the road. Ensure that everyone that has access to your digital assets knows where to save content, how to name files, and what is okay and not okay to do. Also, understand that a solution like this could be temporary.

As you start to scale your operations and visual content production, you may want to plan for a more robust solution, such as a DAM platform. Here are a few telltale signs that it’s time

  • People spend hours looking for content
  • Only a few people know where to find your assets
  • Your current storage solution is messy and difficult to use
  • You have dispersed, collaborative teams that need access to the same materials
  • Your assets need a little extra explanation, such as when it’s okay to use (or not use them)
  • People are routinely using poor quality, expired, or unapproved assets
  • Consistent and accurate brand representation is important to you
  • Sharing files with partners and teams is inefficient
  • You’re running out of space to save large assets, such as design files and videos
  • File conversions are eating up designers’ time
  • Your creative workflows are inefficient

When approached correctly, visual content can be a powerful part of your marketing efforts. By taking the right steps to plan, strategize, execute, optimize, and organize your visual content, you’ll be better positioned for success. 

Find out how Widen and our DAM solution, the Widen Collective®, can help wrangle your visual content and align your creative and marketing teams. Learn more!

Topics: Featured, Content, Marketing, DAM

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